Gifting kids with the gift of realistic expectations

Many of us have had the experience of watching little ones tearing through so many presents on Christmas morning, they barely seem to enjoy them, let alone know who gave them. With the Big Day just weeks away, now is the time to seriously consider your family’s definition of “less is more.”

Last year Livia Gamble, writing for Essential Kids in an article titled “Why Kids Aren’t Grateful at Christmas,” cited interesting research on kids and gratitude. For example, Yale assistant professor of psychology Yarrow Dunham reported that kids who receive gifts in what he calls an “exchange relationship,” are pleased but not grateful. The article suggests that “For kids, the gifts they receive at Christmas are considered an ‘exchange relationship’ because it's apparently the parent's responsibility to buy them presents…”

Gamble also noted that Cornell psychology professor Tom Gilovich, “found people are more likely to be grateful to for experiences, like a family dinner, rather than material things.”

Part of shaping kids’ expectations is getting them focused on giving vs. getting. Challenging? Sure. But buzzfeed’s completely adorable and also practical “23 DIY Holiday Gifts Kids Can Give to Their Parents” (or really, anyone) can make it super fun. After all, who can resist cuff links made of Legos or adorable chalkboard coasters? Helping your child make gifts for others is also a twofer, since it becomes its own gratitude-building experience and forever-memory.

Back in 2012 the Beating Broke blog posted “What Christmas Expectations Are You Setting for Your Children?” It wisely—and humorously—noted that “From the time your children are small, you set their expectations, and what you set by example is what they come to know as ‘normal’ (until they get married and find that their partner has a different “normal” than they do, but that is another post).”

The post also offered some great tips for making expectations realistic including gifting a combination of new, used, and homemade items; giving to a charitable donation instead of giving gifts; giving only 3 gifts; and meeting needs as gifts. In terms of the latter, kids too often feel that getting what they need instead of what they want doesn’t count as a present. It’s good to shift their perspective on that at least a little bit.

Keeping in mind that time, attention, and experiences outlast most items on Santa’s wish list, can make it easier to manage holiday expectations—both yours and your kids’.